Toward Love, Healing, Resilience & Alignment: The Inner Work of Social Transformation & Justice

The Management Assistance Group (MAG) is one of NPQ’s go-to sources of information about social justice movements. MAG works with a number of the networks that are moving some of this nation’s most difficult issues. MAG has come to believe there are five elements that are critical to advancing a thriving justice ecosystem. This concludes a special five-part series, in which MAG and NPQ invite you to contribute to the evolution of what these elements mean in practice.

Pause what you’re doing for a moment. Take a deep breath. In. And out. Now, take an honest and loving look at yourself. How are you? How are you feeling — literally, how is your body feeling? Are you well rested and energized, or tired, drained, stressed out? Take another breath… Are you living the life you intend, the life that will truly change the world? Or are you slowly destroying yourself in the name of doing good?

Gita Gulati-Partee, founder and president of OpenSource Leadership Strategies, asked that inconvenient question that many of us in “the business of change” face at some point: To what degree are our work and the ways we live our lives transforming the world, and to what degree are we unconsciously working against ourselves and our deepest vision?

A story told by Scott Nine, who heads the Initiative for Collaborative Governance in Education of the National Policy Consensus Center, also illustrates this paradox.1Nine describes how, after a series of painful events, “I paused to reflect on myself. I saw how up in my head I was, how I was totally gripped by my work. I didn’t realize how empty I’d gotten — that I had little to no reserves. Or, as a friend told me, I needed to come home to myself.”

Reintroduced to “inner work” at a gathering of activists, Scott began to intentionally change his daily routine, weaving in practices that reconnected him to himself and the things most important to him.

I used to wake up and immediately look at my cell phone for emails and news. Now I don’t look at my cell phone for the first 30 minutes of the day. For 15 minutes, I stay quiet and notice what’s in my head and focus on my breathing. I let myself come to alertness that way. Going to bed used to be all about social media and email. Now, I’ve turned that off. I focus on gratitude as I go to bed. I do that with my kids too and it has changed how they go to bed

These practices also began to have a profound impact on his work.

What I see is possible in a group has also changed. I’ve seen over and over that how people enter into and hold a space is more important than process mechanics. People are able to drop down to core issues and truths much faster, and so much more can be accomplished…

Scott and Gita’s reflections speak to deeply human desires and needs. A need for human connection and relationship — connection to ourselves and with one another. A desire in our work for synergistic vision and movement, within and across our organizations. A desire for meaning and impact.

The “justice ecosystem” refers to those individuals, organizations, and networks across sectors that care about sharing resources and power in just ways. Many people across the justice ecosystem are intensely reflecting on what will make their work meaningful, impactful, and ultimately transformative. Of the emerging insights, many are finding answers in the vital connection between inner work — transforming ourselves — and outer work, or transforming the world. As Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), said, “If we are going to create any meaningful change, we must model new relationships to ourselves and the world around us.”2

Inner Work and Outer Work: A Framework for Holistic Social Transformation

In our work with leaders, organizations, and networks, we have observed that the more we are able to connect to our deepest purpose (the core of who we are, what we are doing and why) and our “source” (knowing we are part of something larger than ourselves) and align with others in that spirit, the greater chance we have of:

  1. Continually refueling and replenishing our reserves when they are low and we are depleted (or not letting ourselves get depleted);
  2. Skillfully allowing and channeling the transformative energy of emotions (including love, joy, anger, and others) that can aid or hinder our ability to connect with ourselves and one another, re-ground in our individual and collective core purpose, and buoy timely, skillful action; and
  3. Increasing our synergy, alignment, and collective strategy and action, including healing rifts inside ourselves, our organizations, and our networks and movements.

As human beings, we all want these things. Scott, Gita, and others are helping us see how essential inner work and the practices that support it are, both for our own wellbeing and for our ability to do the “outer work” of social transformation and justice.

In the context of generating thriving justice ecosystems, inner work may be one of the least discussed but most essential elements…

Read the full article at

Thank you for reading this series, “Five Elements of a Thriving Justice Ecosystem.” If you’d like to return to the start, click here.

Originally published at on May 12, 2017.